Businesses weather COVID-19 storm


By JORDAN PARKER

Special to the Appalachian

STEPHENVILLE – As restaurants, cafés and other public-facing businesses adapt to COVID-19 regulations, the region has seen a corresponding shift in customer counts.

While health and public safety remain a priority, Emile's Pub & Eatery in Stephenville has seen some stark changes due to proof of vaccination rules.

“I must say we have seen some effects at the pub. The VLTs in particular have seen a significant impact,” said Marjorie Jesso, Food and Beverage Manager. “We've seen less traffic than we're used to, and it's not what we were expecting. But just like dining, every time someone wants to come sit at a VLT, we need to see that pass. We're just hoping it's temporary as people get used to it.”

While the restaurant side has begun to recover, the VLT section remains a difficult area.

“The first few weeks in the restaurant saw low traffic. People are just still trying to manoeuvre the new requirements, and some might need to get their QR code. There could be many reasons,” said Jesso. “We have seen many of them come back. And we're confident overall we can get back to normal numbers in all areas. We want the numbers to stay that way.”

Jesso said when things first came into effect, it may have been difficult for people to get used to.

“But now it's about getting into a routine. People walk in and know what they need to do, and we don't have to ask,” she said. “They are understanding it's a requirement to dine in. This is new for everyone, but we hope things go back to normal and we hope for the best.”

In an emailed statement, the provincial Department of Health and Community Services said the plan remains important for safety.

“The ultimate goal of our COVID-19 Immunization Plan is to reduce severe illness and death due to the virus, and protect those most vulnerable,” stated the department. “Getting vaccinated, as well as continuing to follow public health guidance, such as staying home and getting tested when sick, practicing good hygiene, physically distancing and keeping gathering sizes small, will help us get through this pandemic and protect the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

The statement said a COVID-19 vaccine passport protects residents and will help people live safely, as well as keep businesses, schools and organizations open.

“Once fully vaccinated, your proof of vaccination and NLVaxPass is your proof of protection for not only yourselves, but others as well,” it said. “The use of NLVaxPass and NLVaxVerify is an easy and effective way for individuals and businesses to manage proof of vaccination.”

Stephenville's Killick Cafe has also seen a big drop-off in customers, and the NLVaxPass may be partially to blame for that.

“I don't know if it's the vaccine pass or the time of year, but mid-October we usually dip, as a pre-hangover to Halloween candy, and then we pick up before Christmas,” said owner James Gallant. “Many are choosing takeout instead of eating in due to the pass.”

Though Gallant says he's heard horror stories about confrontational customers, he has had no such issues at the café.

“We make everything from scratch and I just find our customers are really friendly. I wouldn't say we've had a true negative impact,” said Gallant. “It's keeping some people home, where I thought maybe people would have more confidence. But some regulars come in and are happy to show the pass. Some aren't coming due to different circumstances, and that's okay.”

COVID-19 has caused difficulties for his business since early 2020.

“It's been painful. We had to shut down three different times flat, on a day's notice. In the restaurant business, that can mean you get caught with a fridge full of food,” he said. “It happened two days before Valentine's Day, and we ended up giving away thousands of dollars in things we prepared. With changing plans, activities getting cancelled, and even people not being comfortable picking up pre-orders, we've given a lot out to seniors, the RCMP and ambulance drivers the past year.”

Gallant is a huge believer in karma and loves helping his community whenever he can. Like his fellow business owners, he's hoping that the NLVaxPass is only temporary.

“We're trudging through it, waiting for normalcy, and hoping there will be an end in sight. We just need to stay positive and work as best we can."

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